I recently spent several days in Munich making plans for a Study Abroad program in July 2015 and doing some sightseeing. Here are a few observations about the trip:
1. I love my house and the community we have in my town, but sometimes I think I'm meant to live in a major downtown area. Simply walking around in Munich was probably my favorite part of the week.
2. Public transportation kicks ass. I could very easily give up driving.
3. Despite being up-and-at-‘em each day, I did not see the sun the entire time I was in Munich. This is neither an exaggeration nor a complaint.
4. First conversation in Germany, at a Munich airport info desk:
ME: Hi, what's the best way to get to the King's Hotel First Class?
HER: Where is it?
ME: Dachauerstrasse 13.
HER: But where is it?
ME (confused): Um....(points to jotted-down address) Dachauerstrasse 13?
HER: But where is it?
ME (really confused): I'm sorry but I don't understand—
HER: Paris? London?
[REMINDER: This was in the Munich airport.]
ME (biting tongue): Munich. It’s in Munich.
HER: See, that's what you must tell me first. You can take bus, taxi, or train. Taxi's more expensive, so I suggest bus or train.
ME (pointing left down the terminal): OK, and for those I go this way?
HER (smiling): I've given you three options.
ME (biting tongue harder): Indeed you have. Danke schön.
5. To me, Christmastime is made for the big city. The crispy cold air, the visible breath, all the lights and decorations, all the pedestrians, all the coats and hats and scarves and gloves, all the shopping bags, the elaborate window displays – it just fits. Add to that Munich's legendary Christmas Markets, with countless stands selling punsch and glühwein and bratwurst and crepes, and you have what I consider a very particular type of heaven.
6. German beer is everything it’s cracked up to be, as is another drink I discovered there, “hot gingerbreadmilk.” Holy wow.
7. I marvel that so many people in Munich – and, I assume, many other big cities outside the USA and UK – speak English so well. More than marvel, actually: I'm envious. I want to speak German as well as they speak English, and I intend to. On principle, I think it's an excellent idea to at least try and learn a bit of the local language before traveling to another country. It can help you navigate the locale, it’s good for your brain, and it's courteous, showing, if nothing else, that you don't expect everyone else to bend to your linguistic will. On that note, I’ve been using the duoLingo app to learn German. I’ve learned some basics, but, like most entry-level tutorials, the app’s examples are less-than useful in real intercontinental conversation. The greatest of these examples, and the one I most fervently tried to work into conversation while in Germany, popped up in the app about a week before I left: Meine Ente trinkt Wasser, or “My duck drinks water.” I did, in fact, manage to work this into a conversation, but the conversation consisted of my saying how badly I wanted to work Meine Ente trinkt Wasser into a conversation (much to the puzzled delight of my German friends).
8. Downtown Munich has a five-story department store called Karstadt, and I think I could have spent my whole week in there, especially the toy department, which reminded me of Gimbels from the movie Elf. It also has a very cozy bar/restaurant on the top floor.
9. I took a day-long sightseeing tour of Linderhof Palace and Neuschwanstein Castle, the latter of which inspired Disney’s signature castle. Both were shrouded in mist during our visit but still stunning. Also on the tour was the village of Oberammergau, famous for performing a Passion Play regularly since 1634 (first yearly, then decennially; the next one occurs in 2020).
10. A notice in my hotel bathroom informed me that “Munich water from the tab [sic]” comes from the Alps and that I “may enjoy it without regret.” Good to know.
11. If you've seen Apocalypse Now, you might remember the early meal scene where Willard is offered an intimidating-looking plate and is told, “I don't know how you feel about this shrimp, but if you eat it, you’ll never have to prove your courage in any other way.” That’s exactly how I feel about the pickled herring I tried at breakfast one morning. It’s entirely possible I'll never put anything that foul into my mouth again.
12. Fistbumps to the dudes drinking lager at 8:10 a.m. in the Munich airport.
13. Fistbumps as well to the bag-check guy who decided on his own not to charge me for my bag being 1.5kg overweight because said overage would have cost me 81 Euros ($99.57 at this writing). “I mean,” he said while pointing to the scale readout, “that clearly says 23kg, right?” “Right,” I replied.
14. Favorite German words so far: Frühstück (breakfast), Entschuldigung (excuse me, sorry; often seems to come out just “schuldigung”), Speisenkarte (menu, though “Menü” also works), “hot gingerbreadmilk” (not technically German, but, yeah).